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Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

On the coffee table of his cozy East Nashville apartment, Aaron Lee Tasjan has a notebook open to autobiographical scrawling — it's a kind of cheat sheet to his musical past, which he prepared, with his mother's help, just in case he forgot anything during his interview with NPR. To be fair, it isn't all that simple to retrace his weaving, winding musical path. The singer-songwriter tried out a variety of musical niches, cities and scenes before landing in Nashville.

Wayne Kramer has seen some things. He saw the Detroit Riots of 1967 firsthand when a tank rolled up to the house he was staying at. He oversaw a career in crime and therefore got a good, long look at the inside of prison cell. And, most notably, he survived decades of addiction.

Leave it to Matt Mays to infuse a daytime studio visit with the spirit of a super sweaty, late night at your favorite dive bar. Mays performs big rock songs from his latest album Once Upon a Hell of a Time featuring the sound of three simultaneous guitars and one heck of a growl. Mays credits Melissa Cross' "The Zen of Screaming" with saving his vocal life.

For the last 25 years, WXPN in Philadelphia, where we produce World Cafe, has been presenting a three-day music event, the XPoNential Music Festival. This year, over the weekend of July 27, 28 and 29, more than 30 bands performed.

Meg Myers makes explosive, aggressive rock coupled with synthesizers, strings and plenty of distortion. Her music is a bit like Nine Inch Nails got into a fight with Pixies — the latter of whom she's toured with — and threw some incredibly dynamic vocals into the mix.

All Songs Considered's Robin Hilton talks with NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson about the essential new albums out on Aug. 31, including music from Big Red Machine (a new side project of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National), the pop paradise of singer Troye Sivan, a tribute to Roger Miller and more.

Featured Albums

  1. Big Red Machine: Big Red Machine
    Featured Song: "Air Stryp"
  2. Troye Sivan: Bloom
    Featured Song: "Seventeen"

They're vulnerable and fearless, filled with love but in pain, thoughtful but prone to cathartic outbursts. IDLES is the best 21st century punk-ish band I've heard. Where most outlandish bands spit out lyrics as one-line headlines, IDLES are tellers of truthful tales.

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